OPINION: Limiting gender-affirming medical care doesn’t ‘safeguard the bright, promising futures’ of Georgia’s trans youth

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

When Gov. Kemp signed a bill last week that prevents health care providers from providing certain hormones or surgical treatment to children to align with their gender identity, Rebecca Stapel-Wax said the news stopped her in her tracks.

“I realized the gravity: that such vulnerable people are being scapegoated. For what?” said Stapel-Wax, executive director of the Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity (SOJOURN).

Stapel-Wax asks a question that I hope other Georgia residents are asking.

After signing the bill, Kemp posted the following statement on Twitter: “As Georgians, parents and elected leaders, it is our highest responsibility to safeguard the bright, promising futures of our kids — and SB 140 takes an important step in fulfilling that mission.”

But for some Georgia politicians, protecting children has become code for restricting bodily autonomy.

On Tuesday, the Georgia Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case brought by abortion providers and reproductive justice advocates that challenges the constitutionality of the state’s ban on abortion after approximately six weeks of pregnancy.

Polls have indicated most Georgia residents do not support the transgender therapies bill or the abortion ban, but Georgia republicans seem to have dismissed the idea that they are accountable to any but a minority of their constituents.

In a March 15 survey from Patinkin Research Strategies, 73% of self-identified Georgia Democrats, 63% of Georgia independents and 59% of Georgia Republicans said they opposed SB140.

Why do the elected officials who voted in favor of these bills think we are incapable of making decisions about our own bodies or the bodies of our minor children?

The bill limiting therapies for transgender youth does the opposite of what lawmakers claim it does, Stapel-Wax said.

“They say they are trying to protect and save children, but by having these affirming care policies and practices, we are actually saving lives,” Stapel-Wax said. “I don’t know how someone can refute the enormous amount of data that has been happening for a couple of decades now regarding lives lost.”

She’s referring to scientific research that correlates gender-affirming care with positive mental health outcomes. One example is a yearlong study that tracked 104 transgender and nonbinary youths ages 13 to 20. The study, published in 2022 by the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that recipients of gender-affirming care were 60% less likely to suffer moderate or severe depression and 73% less likely to commit suicide compared with transgender and nonbinary youths who had not received such medical care.

The new Georgia law prevents health care professionals from administering hormones like estrogen or testosterone to transgender minors or performing gender-affirming surgeries. Hormone treatment that delays puberty is allowed, and exceptions are made for those already on hormone therapies, intersex children and any minor with sexual development disorders or injury.

But transgender youth are already being harmed by this legislation. In a 2022 survey from the Trevor Project, 93% of transgender and nonbinary youth said they have worried about transgender people being denied access to gender-affirming medical care due to state or local laws.

Stapel-Wax of SOJURN has spent two decades working in the Jewish community to promote understanding of gender identity and diversity. Transgender and intersex people are discussed in Jewish texts along with universal values about preserving human life, she said, but the commentary on gender identification is generally not taught.

SOJURN has partnered with almost 200 Jewish organizations across the country to protect transgender youth. It recently partnered with the National Center For Civil and Human Rights to develop programming that supports LGBTQ+ young people, giving them space to find community and learn about history and advocacy.

This kind of support for is vital for LGBTQ+ youth, now more than ever, but elected officials also need to be educated.

Stapel-Wax said during the recent legislative sessions, she observed that lawmakers who supported the bill did not come out of chambers to speak with constituents. And they didn’t even bother to show up when lawmakers opposed to the bill presented their research. Instead, they went out for coffee, she said.

“People are talking at each other,” Stapel-Wax said. “They are not having a conversation.”

The lack of meaningful exchange signals a society in which we are continually at odds with one another.

Abortion bans and laws restricting gender-affirming therapies reflect a system in which someone must be on the bottom, someone must be controlled and someone — usually the most vulnerable and marginalized among us — is told they are undeserving of the right to make decisions about themselves or their families.

That isn’t protection. That is paternalism at its worst. And it won’t save our children or get us any closer to the true democracy of which some of us still dream.

Read more on the Real Life blog (www.ajc.com/opinion/real-life-blog/) and find Nedra on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AJCRealLifeColumn) and Twitter (@nrhoneajc) or email her at nedra.rhone@ajc.com.